City inspectors have seven months to shut down illegal rooming houses around the University of Toronto Scarborough campus before Scarborough East Councillor Ron Moeser says he may be forced to consider an option he knows Highland Creek homeowners won’t like.
A zone permitting licensed rooming houses, like those the City of Oshawa has lately allowed on streets near Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, may be feasible, Moeser said this week, but the idea alone is “very controversial” to his constituents.
Many have complained bitterly in recent months that Military Trail near the campus has become a “rooming house row” and the neighbourhood is in danger of being a “student ghetto” one day.
Drawing fresh attention to the conflict, charges of running an illegal rooming house were laid last week against owners of Military Trail house, where the city says 11 people lived across the street from the U of T campus.
The house is actually the sixth which bylaw enforcement officers from the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards division, working from a list of nine suspected rooming houses, have shut down since Moeser formed a committee last November to attack the problem.
“I can tell you unequivocally there’s more than that,” he said, adding two bylaw officers have been dedicated to work on Scarborough rooming houses.
Though Scarborough homes can legally have a separated rental apartment and rooms for two boarders, rooming houses, whether supervised by live-in owners or not, are not uncommon in some areas.
Councillors, under pressure from neighbours of such homes, often complain it’s difficult for the city to gain entry to such houses.
“People have the right to expect a single-family community to be single family,” Moeser said, though he also expressed sympathy for students who are “thrown out in the streets” when rooming houses suddenly close.
Some student roomers live in “horrific” conditions, added Moeser. “It gets to be a safety issue.”
Moeser has, however, toured the part of Oshawa where “licensed rental houses” have lately been permitted by that city.
This week, the councillor acknowleged “there is no easy answer with this issue,” and said he will give the dedicated MLS staff until September to do their best at enforcement.
If that works, Moeser said, “then we don’t have to look at zones” where rooming houses might be permitted and licensed.
A representative of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, however, said the city might as well start looking at licensing rooming houses spreading now around UTSC.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t allow it, it’s still going to happen,” said Guled Arale, the union’s vice president external.
The campus has at least 10,000 students but rooms for just 746 on campus, and though it is planning a new residence building for a net gain of about 500 rooms, its population will be 15,000 before the building opens, Arale said.
Eventually, the city won’t be able to brush off the idea of a zone for licensed rooming houses, Arale argued, adding he hopes students and residents are willing to discuss the issue next September and “to accept this is a neighbourhood we can share.”
Students need cheap accommodation options, since some many not be able to afford other places to live, said Arale, who said one of the displaced tenants from the Military Trail house is a friend.
Rooming houses in downtown Toronto, Etobicoke and East York are regulated and licensed, but most local councillors have strongly opposed introducing such licensing anywhere in Scarborough.
The latest proposal for a city-wide harmonized zoning bylaw is proceeding without a provision for licensed rooming houses in Scarborough or North York, and though consultations on rooming houses were once promised, none are planned. “There’s no will on Scarborough’s part to have rooming houses,” Moeser said.
If rooming houses are not permitted in North York or Scarborough, the harmonized bylaw will be challenged under Ontario’s Human Rights Code or Canada’s Charter of Rights, predicted Phil Nazar, community chairperson of the city’s Rooming House Working Group.
Nazar, who works at the Toronto Christian Resource Centre, said licensed rooming houses are part of good planning. “There’s a demonstrated need for this kind of housing,” he said.